January 18, 2009

Not the same

It was snowing this morning and my street was not plowed. I suppose I could have been slightly heroic and gotten myself to church, but I decided to stay home. Instead, I worshiped at the "church of the internet" -- live streaming video from a famous church. It was a lovely service, carefully choreographed, with guest musicians, a large choir, and an intellectually-leaning sermon. It was nice -- and better than nothing, I suppose -- but somehow it wasn't quite church.
And this leads me to think some about what is church and, related, what is worship. For me, it is a physical experience, being in the same space with others engaged in the same actions. It is the sounds, smells, warmness or chill of the air, touch of the bulletin and hymnal, presence of others nearby in the pew standing and sitting, breathing and coughing and whispering. So for an experience to be church for me, it is incarnational. And it is also communal. There is something about the gathered body that is essential. One alone can pray and worship, too, but one alone is not church. Church is where I meet others on the same path but with their own journeys; where I share their burdens and hand over mine to them and to God; where I turn my attention from my own self to others and to the world; where I can see God in the world in those made in the image of God. I can pray and sing when I am by myself and that is necessary and important, and it is praise and good. But for an experience to be church and worship for me, it needs to be with others, all of us gathered by the Holy Spirit to meet God and live into the calling of Christ.
I hope it doesn't snow next Sunday...

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